What to Know about COVID-19 Vaccines Linked to Heart Problems in Young People

Michelle Johnson, a cardiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Michelle Johnson, a cardiologist, says heart problems caused by a COVID-19 vaccine are extremely rare. If they do occur, they usually clear up on their own or require medication.

You may have read about a rare but troubling potential side effect from the COVID-19 vaccines. In late June 2021, the CDC reported that more than 1,200 Americans experienced heart issues potentially linked to the Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty®) vaccine and Moderna vaccine.

The two heart problems detailed in the report are myocarditis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, an inflammation of the lining around the heart.

Michelle Johnson, a cardiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering, says that these heart issues are very rare, treatable, and not as dangerous as COVID-19 itself.

Heart Inflammation Caused by COVID-19 Vaccines Is Rare

As of December 8, 2021, over 200 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the CDC is continually monitoring data to make sure the vaccines are safe.

Heart inflammation has emerged as a potential problem, and CDC researchers took a closer look. This is another indication of how carefully vaccine safety is being monitored.

Here’s what we know as of November 12, 2021:

  • These heart problems occurred more commonly in male adolescents and young adults; showed up more often after the second dose; and occured usually within a week of vaccination.
  • Most patients who received care responded well to medicine and rest and felt better quickly

“Myocarditis or pericarditis after a COVID-19 vaccine is extremely rare,” says Dr. Johnson.

It is good news the COVID-19 vaccines aren't causing severe heart issues. These cases have been mild, and we have a number of good strategies to help patients like this.
Michelle N. Johnson cardiologist
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Myocarditis and Pericarditis Are Usually Treatable

In general, myocarditis and pericarditis are rare diseases and occur in less than 200,000 Americans per year, but either condition can be managed and successfully treated by a heart specialist.

“In most cases, both myocarditis and pericarditis will clear up on its own or will require medication,” Dr. Johnson says. “In severe cases, a patient may need to be hospitalized for a more aggressive treatment strategy — intravenous drugs, a device to help their heart pump blood, or surgery.”

When a case of heart inflammation did appear after COVID-19 vaccination, the CDC found that most patients were able to rest and recover quickly after treatment. People most commonly experienced fatigue, chest pain, and feelings of a fast beating, pounding, or fluttering heartbeat.

“It is good news the COVID-19 vaccines aren’t causing severe heart issues,” Dr. Johnson says. “These cases have been mild, and we have a number of good strategies to help patients like this.”

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COVID-19 Itself Is More Dangerous than Side Effects from the Vaccine

In young people, heart problems are often caused by viral infections, says Dr. Johnson. It’s well understood that COVID-19 can cause heart problems in children — by itself or as a result of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

“A young person is much more likely to get myocarditis or pericarditis from COVID-19 itself than they would from a COVID-19 vaccine.”

The COVID-19 vaccines provide strong protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. Severe safety issues — including myocarditis, pericarditis, anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), and thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (blood clots with low platelets) — are very rare. The CDC continues to monitor these and all potential safety problems.

“We know that the benefits of the vaccine strongly outweigh the risks,” Dr. Johnson says. “I strongly recommend — and the CDC recommends — that everyone over age 5 get vaccinated as soon as possible.

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